November 18, 2018 - Sermon - Rev. Hamilton Throckmorton

Scripture: Psalm 16                            


     What a day!  What a God!  And what a remarkable blessing that your gifts would yield these results!  It is astounding, and a sign of great and wonderful grace!  Thanks be to God!  And thanks be to you!


     I want to remind us briefly this morning why we’ve done this.  We do this because a place for worship matters.  True spirit is deeply connected to matter, to stuff, to locations.  When we kicked this campaign off in August of 2017, I quoted my colleague and friend Donna Schaper, who asked “Why do we even bother to cling to these sacred spaces?  We bother because of powerful allegiance to our spiritual yearnings, some of which find a home in beautiful . . . buildings.  We bother because of God.  We bother because of community and its gathering and homing instinct.  We bother because of place and our love of place.  We bother because we need a home for our better selves.  We bother for the fun of singing.  We bother for the fun of eating.  We bother for the fun of gathering . . ..  We gather for the bread and wine and its remembrance of Jesus’ body.  We gather for the baptismal water for the children.  We gather for the wedding rings and their circle” (“Bricks and Mortals: Sacred Space as Real Estate and Real Estate as Sacred Space,” p. 2).


     “All of these reasons,” she says, “land us on a piece of land where we lay a foundation, decide on materials, build a roof and sometimes point a steeple to the sky, to acknowledge that we want to know something about heaven.  The soul finds a body and lives in it and worships in it” (p. 2).  “People need a space and a place in which to worship” (p. 3).


     And so the words of the psalm are striking this morning, on this day when we return to this renovated and enhanced space and place of worship.  “I say to God, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ . . . The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; . . . Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. . .. You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your mighty hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:2, 6, 9, 11).


     Rejoicing and joy: that’s what we’re about this morning.  A big part of my joy, of our joy, on this weekend leading to Thanksgiving, is gratitude.  And I want to take a moment now to express my thanks to some crucial people for their roles in restoring and enhancing this sanctuary.  What I’d like is for you to stand when you have been mentioned and stay standing.  And if you do feel like applauding, great, but please let’s wait until everyone has been mentioned, and then feel free to whoop in delight!


     I want to go back a number of months first, and to thank the people who ran this campaign.  We had a leadership team of fourteen people, led by Kristi and Ken Horner and Robin Harbage and David Telfer, and staffed by Laura Taylor.  Would members of that campaign leadership team please stand and stay standing.  Fast forward a little bit now to the implementation of the projects the Rejoice and Renew campaign was intended to carry out.  Would all of you who have served on and helped the Properties Committee including Paul Koepf, Keith Mast, Bill Lentz, Bob Doxey, Bill Mason, Doug Harlan, Ward Pierson, Mike Molloy and Tom Meyers, together with Finance Chair Becky Gruss and construction site manager Ray Piskula and general contractor John Giles, along with chief interior designer Heather Harris and carpet consultant Bill Franz, along with Marcia Snavely and Joshua Konow and Gary Dole and those who did the work of securing this magnificent organ please stand and stay standing.  And if there are any contractors here who did the work of painting and carpeting and flooring and organ building please join them in standing.  I’d like to recognize, as well, members of Federated’s properties and custodial staff, led by Amy Eugene and Ed Willmott along with Jake Magalski, Larry Trace, Larry McGurer, and Wilson Taylor, all of whom have contributed hugely to the work of implementing this wonderful project.  Would you please stand and stay standing.  And if I have forgotten someone who has worked on this project and really should be standing—you know who you are—you stand, too!  Not only that, though, if you have pledged and given money to this fantastic project, would you please stand and stay standing.  And finally if you appreciate the beauty of this space, or treasure even just one small feature—such as the shiny brass hand rails or the way the organ makes you feel—would you also stand.  And now let’s give thanks to God by joining in a raucous round of applause for the blessings we feel and know!  You may be seated.


     Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I find myself singing a simple children’s song: “Oh be joyful, oh be jubilant.  Put your sorrows far away.  Come rejoice and sing together this happy day!”  Join me in singing it several times through.  This is what we do today: we rejoice! 

     So what is it we’re joyful about?  What is it that gives us what the psalm calls “fullness of joy”?  In addition to our gratitude for those who have brought this project to fruition, there are really two things that stand out to me today that let us sing for joy.  The first is that God has blessed each of us in a fabulous and wonderful way.  There is no one quite like you or me.  Each of us brings something unique and special to the table of life.  This world would not be the same if any one of us didn’t exist.  It’s like George Bailey, the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Without you or me, something crucial would be missing.  We need to celebrate that. 


     Several months ago, Mary and I were at the Cleveland Museum of Art one Sunday afternoon.  From a distance, I heard someone shouting somewhere in the museum, and I couldn’t figure out what it was.  When we arrived at one particular gallery, suddenly I saw what was going on.  A performance artist named Donell Funderburk was grandly introducing every person who entered that gallery.  Seriously and joyfully and with total conviction that each person mattered.  And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fantastic to convey that to everyone at worship!’  What would that be like?  [Gary Dole walk down center aisle introducing a number of worshipers, grandly announcing their names to the congregation]


     Well, that’s what it would be like to announce to everyone that you and I are all radiant blessings of God!  You’ve heard me say it before, and I will undoubtedly say it again: when Jesus is baptized, God declares to him, “You are my beloved [Child]; in you I have taken delight” (Luke 3:22; Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, p. 479).  And what God says to Jesus, God says also to you and me: “You are [each] my beloved [Child]; in [every single one of] you I have taken delight.”  If this newly refurbished sanctuary conveys anything to you when you walk in here, I hope it conveys that: you are special, a holy child of God, full of love and light.


     Several years ago, I wrote a simple musical line that conveys something of that truth.  I want us to sing the first verse of it now: “I am God’s child, full of love and light, and God will use me to change the world.”  We have each been incredibly blessed by God.


     The truth of the matter, though—and this is the second thing that gives us great joy today—is that we are far more than isolated individuals in this magnificent world God has given us.  We are a body, we are a household, we are a family.  We are the church.  We are God’s church.  When we come together here, we are more than simply private worshipers.  We aren’t just random atoms coincidentally running into each other.  God has brought us together to care for each other, to lift each other up, to support each other, to strive for justice, to embody love.  We are here as partners in a sacred dance.  This is holy ground.  And it is holy both because God hallows it, and because we have the singular and joyful opportunity to embody that sacred love with each other and with the wider world.  We have a mission in this world, and the majestic simplicity of this place calls us forth to live out that mission.  So that others might look at us and say, “Wow!  Look how much they love each other!”


     So there’s one more part to that song.  In an addition that Susi suggested, we affirm that together we are God’s church, and together we have the precious opportunity to change the world.  Let’s sing together the second verse several times: “We are God’s church, full of love and light, and God will use us to change the world.” 


     And together, this is at the heart of what we declare today: you and I are each God’s child, and together we are God’s church.  And the great news is that God is using us to change the world.  With this gorgeous new sanctuary as our home, with the Spirit undergirding everything we do and are, with holy grace embracing us and sending us forth, let’s be about the business of taking in God’s undying love for us, and living out that love in changing the world.  If you’re with me, let’s say together a loud and enthusiastic “Amen!”